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Age or Corrosion on Tsuba? How to recognize wear.


10thRoyal
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Good afternoon, along with my recent haul of blades I received several fairly nice tsubas, but one in particular caught my eye. The size I am going to surmise points to it belonging to a tanto and surface looks rougher than any of the blades I have. Being less familiar with centuries old metallurgy than with modern metallurgy, is there a way to discern between corrosion due to a harsh environment vs natural age and wearing over long years? Either way it was probably quite beautiful once.

 

 

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Just a guess but it looks like it is corroded more on one side, pointing to it being stored in a not very dry container/or even under a house. Then over cleaned, there looks to be no 'patina' left [unless the lighting is harsh?] The nakago-ana looks recently cleaned might I say filed? Heianjo style with a slightly raised rim, Kiku mon [yours originally, were better defined than the example image below] and Karakusa scrolls. I think it would have been a very attractive piece and from my experience there don't seem to be many Tanto sized pieces out there (?), but as Indiana Jones said "It's not the age - it's the mileage!"

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9 minutes ago, Spartancrest said:

Just a guess but it looks like it is corroded more on one side, pointing to it being stored in a not very dry container/or even under a house. Then over cleaned, there looks to be no 'patina' left [unless the lighting is harsh?] The nakago-ana looks recently cleaned might I say filed? Heianjo style with a slightly raised rim, Kiku mon [yours originally, were better defined than the example image below] and Karakusa scrolls. I think it would have been a very attractive piece and from my experience there don't seem to be many Tanto sized pieces out there (?), but as Indiana Jones said "It's not the age - it's the mileage!"

 

I apologize, I boosted the exposure to better convey the inlay and ruin the color in the process. It really is almost impossible to see the details otherwise. And I think "lots of milage" would probably be a good way to describe it.

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23 minutes ago, Bugyotsuji said:

Even upside down you can still see evidence of floral inlay designs.

Sir, I never even considered that tsuba had a proper orientation. Which is kind of obvious now that I see it. These are the only other interesting ones I was able to pick up.

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Michael it looks much better with the darker image.  :thumbsup:

I have the same problem with some museum examples that I look at - either too dark to see any detail or too washed out to give a proper image [sometimes you can't win] I rather like Tanto guards, they somehow seem a neglected part of collecting - size is not everything!

The other guards are [sorry] pretty run of the mill, and utilitarian - made for use rather than decorative - the dragon I think is cast, the mei look overly wide with a curved indent not like you get with a sharp chisel. There are two lines which shouldn't be where they are and what looks like a rounded over edge to the nakago-ana. [could be wrong it wouldn't be the first time!]

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I kind of figured most of what I had was not someone's "Sunday best" tsubas. I do enjoy the simple practicality but good craftsmanship of the bottom two in the top image. The beat up one will probably go in a display. Something I am noticing with Nihonto is the theme of degraded or forgotten beauty. Whether it is a once beautiful, corroded tsuba or an unsigned Koto era blade that has good bones but you would lose money having it polished. So only the premier and well kept examples will survive into the far future, everything more utilitarian or that was neglected for a few decades will continue to diminish. 

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Michael I do hope we don't lose the practical nihonto/tosogu - the pretty stuff won't reflect the truth and we will be the worse without it. The duality of function and beauty can't really exist without each other. Who can even define what beauty is and what is worth saving? 

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Michael,

Yeah... that one (especially with crusty rust like that in what would be considered wear areas) is just kind of neglected.  I think the Japanese really were into wabi shabby for quite a while (a lot of earlier goto work was apparently "pre worn" to have this look, etc), but I don't think your piece is that. - here's one that was just used a  lot:

worn_heianjou_zougan.thumb.jpg.5e8fac3d45be4bc2bde0d77f217bbdb4.jpg

This piece is probably right on the border of having too many losses, but its interesting to me because it was used quite a bit and appears to have always been cared for.

 

Note also that sometimes on pieces there's this stuff called sukirushi that can start looking pretty bad/like corrosion, but it isn't.  I think it was some kind of lacquer clear(??) coat that seemed to have been popular for a while (you see it on several different types of tsuba and actually other artifacts of a certain age or older) that didn't age well:

sukiurushi.thumb.jpg.1e1701e72d52f665cc85fb58ff9d2370.jpg

 

Oh, and here's an onin covered with that gunk as well:

 

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Best,

rkg

(Richard George)

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  • 2 weeks later...

By the way Michael, that dragon tsuba is from the Jakushi school.

Here's another one in a link from a Markus Sesko article tsuba | Markus Sesko  that was made by a 7th generation smith from the Jakushi school.

The one in the article has an interesting mei that suggests that particular tsuba (the one specifically in the article) was made from repurposed iron from five shinto priest begging bowls.

  

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32 minutes ago, GRC said:

I think the tsuba you've got is a probably a casting of one these later Jakushi dragon designs.

There's an amazingly large number of cast copies of these, and ts scary how much some get bid up on YJ sometimes - you know the buyer isn't gonna be happy when they figure it out.

rkg

(Richard George)

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Seems that y'all are certainly correct that this is a cast copy. I am happy to have found such a knowledge base as this site.

 

In more positive news I believe I found a tsuba on the other end of the spectrum, though still with losses. Sometimes the Craigslist gods are kind hahaha. Any thoughts on the school this may be from?

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I would say it is a big improvement on the first guard, Kenjo [presentation] tsuba would have been my first guess from the amount of Gold overlay - but it is obvious that it has been mounted. The images are not very clear but looks like nunome score marks on the plate, it is a technique that can have very beautiful detailed results but is perhaps the worst at retention, if actually used. Very thin overlay that is basically just hanging on and easy to peel off. Shakudo fukurin?

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3 hours ago, Spartancrest said:

I would say it is a big improvement on the first guard, Kenjo [presentation] tsuba would have been my first guess from the amount of Gold overlay - but it is obvious that it has been mounted. The images are not very clear but looks like nunome score marks on the plate, it is a technique that can have very beautiful detailed results but is perhaps the worst at retention, if actually used. Very thin overlay that is basically just hanging on and easy to peel off. Shakudo fukurin?

Looking at it in a bright lights you can see faint crosshatched lines as you mentioned. These are very shallow and it does not surprise me at all that the adhesion is week. You can see these at the top of the tsuba in the image. And it has indeed been mounted as I have the wakizashi that it was mounted to.

 

Gold damascene on Middle Eastern and Balkan sword blades that I own which were meant for hard use have a much deeper cut cross hatch pattern and have retained the gold much better even after evidence of repeated sharpenings. 

 

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